Groom: At the Natural History Museum
I don’t have enough Irish bands in my life, besides the obvious Irish punks and a couple of albums of more vernacular music. Luckily, Groom is here to save the day. Their new album, At The Natural History Museum, which you can buy from Tight Ship Records, is exactly what I needed to be listening to at this point of the year, with summer just starting and as I’m feeling the end of my first year of grad school.
ATNHM is a seductive little bite of warm, filling melodies, barely sweetening the biting lyrics, and leaving you wanting more. The whole album is just over 30 minutes, and feels like the soundtrack to a short Wes Anderson film (the kind that also, not surprisingly and despite the depth of its characters, leaves you wanting more). In 6 tracks, the album seamlessly experiments with genre and texture so well that if it included a few more songs, it could nearly parallel some of the more conceptual projects that people like Stephin Merritt and Bradford Cox have done in recent years.
There is a scavenger hunt game that I play, sometimes, shuffling through my music in search of things that really hit the spot. Usually, my best playlists come from this game, and I even sometimes use it to make people soundtracks to listen to as they go through their days. There is usually something instrumental in there, usually something earnest, and usually something a bit folksy. Things get louder as I ease myself into what I’m hearing, and eventually, I like to rock out a bit from time to time.
Through some odd coincidence, the first track on ATNHM takes you through almost that exact progression, beginning with a long instrumental prelude to an incredibly sweet song about the depths of despair that are somehow subdued by the brown imagery of a museum dedicated to preserving scenes of life and death. The song ends with some rough and choppy chords that fade back and forth from the aforementioned sweetness into something edgier and ends rather abruptly, like a small morsel of unrealized catharsis. “Mythical Creatures” picks up on that hollowness in an unexpected way. It is perfectly jangly, all the while expressing morbid fears of the (real and metaphorical) monsters in the dark, the ones who will stab you in the back or attempt maim and eat you in the night. I wish that “Worst of Places, Worst of Times” was actually the next track. It is about twice as fast and contrasts nicely in terms of content. It's a little bit of the Weakerthans, with hints of something older and more classic. “Moving West,” which would have logically been the next song, is a brilliant, though repetitive, soundscape. Even without the lyrics, I could imagine large waves crashing at each other in the distance, though, for me, I was thinking of the California coast and not the Atlantic, where I’m sure the waves are different.
There are a couple of really hilarious songs on this album, ones that are so light and airy that you forget that they are about ghastly issues like death. “Let’s Die Together” speaks so precisely and with such sophistication to the impulse to disappear into an abyss of sadness and happiness because the light and beauty of the world is too much to handle. It is probably the first song I’ve ever wished to hear Stephin Merritt cover, because it would fit his style and sensibilities perfectly. “Death of a Songwriter” has an incredibly catchy chorus, and is maybe the funniest song about vocational endeavors that I’ve ever heard. It reaches into the same depths of identity and authenticity that the other songs on the album do, but with a sense of humor that I really appreciate.
Overall, a really excellent album that I can imagine being in my top 5 at the end of the year.
Buy it here.